Alice Paul – The Final Stretch for Women’s Suffrage

Alice Paul around 1901 (source)

During the second half of the 19th century, the two primary women’s suffrage organizations led by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (National Woman Suffrage Association), and Lucy Stone (American Woman Suffrage Association) were working on two different approaches: a Constitutional Amendment, and state-by-state legislation giving women the vote. There was little progress on either front by the time the two organizations joined in 1890 to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA.) By 1900, only four western states had given women full suffrage, and the Constitutional Amendment that Susan B. Anthony had championed was not the preferred approach of most of the women’s leaders. Introduced in 1872, it had only been brought up for a vote one time in 1878 in spite of the fact that Anthony and others addressed the House Committee every year. Although a few more states had given the women the vote when Alice Paul returned from her studies in England, she was convinced that the only way to proceed was to push for the Amendment, and she was determined to do her part.

Alice Stokes Paul was born January 11, 1885 to William and Tacie Paul. They were Hicksite Quakers who led simple lives and had a strong heritage of activism and education for women. William was the seventh generation descended from Philip Paul who fled religious persecution in England and established Paulsboro, New Jersey. Alice’s maternal great-grandfather, Charles Stokes, was active in politics and a supporter of abolitionist and women’s suffrage causes. Her maternal grandfather, William Parry, believing in educating women, established Swarthmore College as a co-educational experiment and Alice’s mother Tacie was one of its first female graduates.

William Paul was a banker and owned a modest working farm. Together they gave the family a comfortable life and provided Alice and her three siblings, Helen, Parry, and William, the opportunity for an excellent education. As a child, Alice read every book in the house as well as the school library, and when she entered Swarthmore in 1901, she studied biology because it was the one subject she hadn’t studied in school. Intellectual curiosity about a subject, however, didn’t make for a good major, so at the advice of a professor, she switched and graduated with a degree in social work.

Alice Paul in 1913 (source)

Alice Paul in 1913 (source)

Alice was definitely academically gifted and in spite of her family heritage, had no real intention of being an activist. No one else would have expected it of her either. On her return from England after getting involved with the British suffrage movement, her mother was quoted in the New York Times (Nov. 13, 1909) as saying, “I cannot understand how this all came about, Alice is such a mild-mannered girl.” But after graduation, Alice had taken a job in the New York College settlement house. She quickly came to the conclusion that she didn’t want to just work to alleviate the suffering of individuals; she wanted to work to change the conditions that led to their suffering. In order to work within the system and help change the social conditions that prevailed at the time, Alice decided to continue her academic career and enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania to study sociology.  She eventually received an MA and PhD through the University of Pennsylvania, and ultimately an LLB, LLM, and a Doctorate in Civil Law. But before completing these accomplishments, she took a “slight” detour into the real world of activism in England.

Her life-changing trip to England began in 1907 with a scholarship to Woodbrooke, a Friends institution in Birmingham. While there, she also became the first woman to enroll in the commerce department at the University of Birmingham to study economics. This is where she first heard Christabel Pankhurst speak about women’s suffrage. Christabel and her mother Emmeline Pankhurst weren’t in the business of asking men politely to give women the vote. For the previous two years, they had been agitating and getting arrested to raise awareness for the need for women’s suffrage. The press had dubbed them “suffragettes”, to distinguish them from the more “socially acceptable” suffragists, using the diminutive “ette” to insult them. Their motto was “Deeds, not Words” and they wore the suffragette badge with pride.

Alice was a petite, delicate even fragile looking woman. She said herself that she was “not very brave,” and had a fear of public speaking. Nevertheless, once she had been “converted to the cause” she met each fear and challenge. She began simply by marching with the women, but quickly took on other activities. She was a “newsie”, passing out the organization’s paper Votes for Women; she was promoted to street corner speaker; and she eventually was invited to participate in a march on the House of Commons. This invitation came with a warning that they might be arrested, and that she shouldn’t agree to participate unless she was willing to accept that consequence. She accepted.

The women in the Pankhurst organization, the WSPU (Women’s Social and Political Union), had been getting arrested for a couple of years at this point. They would ask to be treated as political prisoners. When this request was denied, they would often go on hunger strikes. This ultimately resulted in force feedings. It was a horrible procedure that consisted of being held or tied down and having a tube thrust into a nostril and down their throat. It was brutal and extremely painful.

When Alice was arrested and force fed, she asked her suffrage sisters not to release her name to the media, so as not to worry her mother, but the word got out and it served to greatly increase Tacie’s concern for her daughter. Eventually, Alice decided that she needed to return home, for the sake of her family and to finish her education. She may have underestimated her fame in the US. When she returned, she found that she was in great demand as a speaker, but she had other goals as well. She joined the National, as NAWSA was called, and became the chairman of its Congressional Committee.

Official program for the suffrage procession organized by Alice Paul (source)

Official program for the suffrage procession organized by Alice Paul (source)

Her first major task was to organize a parade in Washington, D.C. for March 3, 1913, the day before Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration as President. The parade was her idea and she was completely responsible for organizing and raising funds. She contacted Lucy Burns, an American woman she had met during the protests in England, and formed a small committee. This was a monumental undertaking that deserves its own narrative, but suffice it to say that the city had never seen anything like it. She negotiated many controversies, disagreements, obstruction from authorities, and the press. Ultimately, women from all over the country and from all walks of life were represented. Wilson had tried to avoid the issue, but was privately against women’s suffrage. The parade made the statement in a big way that the issue and the women, were not going away.

At first Alice believed that the radical methods used in Britain would not be needed in America, but little progress was being made and she wanted to increase the pressure. There were disagreements about tactics within NAWSA, whose conservative leaders had always been a little wary of Alice, so she finally broke from them in 1916 and formed the National Woman’s Party (NWP.) Through the NWP, she began introducing some of the methods used by the Pankhursts. One of their goals was to shame President Wilson into supporting the suffrage movement. They picketed the White House over the next two years in all types of weather, amusing, confounding and finally angering the authorities. The picketers, including Alice, were arrested, incarcerated in workhouses, and force fed. At one point Alice was confined to a psychiatric ward, but the doctor would not be complicit; his report stated that she was perfectly sane.

Picketing in front of the White House (source)

Picketing in front of the White House (source)

The pressure finally worked. In January of 1918, President Wilson spoke to Congress and urged them to pass the Nineteenth Amendment for women’s suffrage. The rest as they say is history. In June of 1919, the Amendment passed both houses of Congress, and finally in August of 1920, it was ratified by the 36th state and signed into law on August 26, 1920.

Many women considered the fight over and resumed their lives, but Alice had a broader vision. She went on to write and campaign for the Equal Rights Amendment. Unlike the people who originally wrote the suffrage amendment, Alice was alive to see the ERA pass the Congress in 1972. Unfortunately, only 35 of the required 38 states ratified the amendment before the deadline passed. After suffering a stroke in 1974, Alice Paul died in 1977. No other states ratified the ERA after her death.

I haven’t read all the sources about Alice Paul, but from what I have read, including reviews of other sources, not much has been said about her as a person, her personality, her leisure activities, etc. She doesn’t seem to have had close personal friends. There is an occasional mention of a male companion for dinner or a lecture, but no continuing relationships. Even her letters to and from Lucy Burns are started with “Miss Paul” and “Miss Burns.”  It could be that she was just very private about those aspects of her life, but I’m inclined to think that perhaps this quote from Alice herself explains it best.

“My feeling about our movement, you see, is that it is so pregnant with possibilities that it is worth sacrificing everything for, leisure, money, reputation and even our lives. I know that most people do not feel this way about it but since I do you can see that it cost me a pang to think of anyone abandoning suffrage for any other work.”
~ Alice Paul in a letter to someone preparing to leave the movement.


Sisters: The Lives of America’s Suffragists by Jean H. Baker
A Woman’s Crusade: Alice Paul and the Battle for the Ballot by Mary Walton

Elizabeth Cady Stanton – Suffragist and Women’s Rights Activist

Elizabeth Cady Stanton c. 1880 (source)

Elizabeth Cady Stanton c. 1880 (source)

In many ways, Elizabeth Cady Stanton provided the philosophical bedrock for the women’s movement in the United States. She is known for fighting for women’s suffrage, but she never lost sight of the bigger picture of women’s rights or other reform issues. Throughout her long life she would concern herself with such things as the abolition of slavery, the right for married women to own property, birth control, custody for mothers, education for girls, and relief for suffering families after the Civil War. Her overriding concern was that all individuals have the right of self-determination and should be allowed to have all the tools necessary to do this.

Elizabeth, born on November 12, 1815, was the eighth of eleven children born to Daniel Cady and Margaret Livingston Cady. Only she and four sisters survived well into adulthood. After years of miscarriages and exhausted by childbirth, Margaret retreated to her bed in ill health, possibly to avoid any more attempts at having a boy. After menopause, she recovered her health to a degree that Elizabeth’s children remember their grandmother as fun and affectionate. In the meantime, Elizabeth was often cared for by her older sister Tryphena and her husband Edward Bayard.

It’s not uncommon for a daughter to fill the place of a son when there aren’t any boys in the family. Elizabeth Cady had the interests and mental capability to be like a son to her father, to share his intellectual interests and pastimes. She was an accomplished horsewoman, and excelled in mathematics, Latin and Greek and could play chess. She once took a young man who came to read law with her father on a 10 miles ride that left him exhausted. But in Elizabeth’s father’s eyes it wasn’t enough. At the age of eleven when her only brother (Eleazar, aged 20) died, she climbed into her father’s lap to comfort him and he said, “Oh daughter, I wish you were a boy.” As hard as she tried, she always felt inadequate simply because she was a girl and unable to take Eleazar’s place.

Elizabeth's father the Hon. Daniel Cady c. 1835 (source)

Elizabeth’s father the Hon. Daniel Cady c. 1835 (source)

Elizabeth’s father was a prominent attorney who served one term in Congress and later became a judge. As a young girl, Elizabeth would often sit quietly in her father’s office and listen to the women who came seeking help in legal matters. She became aware at an early age of the great disadvantage of women in the legal system. Her brother-in-law, Edward who studied with her father, would tease her by reading the most egregious laws and Bible passages pertaining to women. At that time, women had virtually no legal rights; they couldn’t own property, in fact any property they inherited became the property of their husbands when they married to do with as he saw fit; wages they earned became the property of their husbands; they had no custody rights; in fact they were the property of their husbands. This struck Elizabeth as unfair, in fact as a young girl she marked the worst passages in her father’s law books and planned to cut them out, but a friend revealed her plan and her father explained to her that it wouldn’t make any difference, the laws would still exist.

Growing up Elizabeth attended Johnstown academy. Working to earn her father’s love she excelled and received many honors, often out performing the boys in her classes. In spite of this, when it was time for the boys to go on to Union College, she couldn’t. They didn’t admit women. Once again, the system seemed unfair to Elizabeth. Although her father considered the subjects she excelled at unfeminine, she was encouraged intellectually by a neighbor, the Rev. Simon Hosack and at Edward’s urging, Judge Cady did agree to send her to the Troy Female Seminary where she learned subjects more “appropriate” for a young woman, such as music, dancing and French. This did little to instill in her a liking for these subjects. In fact, she particularly disliked sewing, calling the needle “that one-eyed demon of destruction that slays thousands annually; that evil genius of our sex, which, in spite of all our devotion, will never make us healthy, wealthy, or wise.”

After graduating from school, Elizabeth spent time in the Bayard’s home and that of her cousin Gerrit Smith a prominent abolitionist. There she made the acquaintance of Henry Brewster Stanton a young attorney who also supported the abolitionist cause. Over the years Edward’s teasing had become affection, but Elizabeth had no desire to betray her sister, so when Henry Stanton proposed marriage to her, she accepted. Edward tried to intervene by disparaging Stanton to Elizabeth’s father who was not a staunch abolitionist, and she was convinced to break off the engagement. But, Henry was persistent.

In 1840, Henry was planning to go to England to attend the first world slavery convention. He told Elizabeth that he would be gone for 8 months and asked her again to marry him. She accepted and within a few days they were married and on their way to England. Their experiences there would set the stage for the beginnings of the suffrage movement in America.

Elizabeth and Henry arrived in London with some of the most well-known abolitionists in the United States: James and Lucretia Mott, Wendell Phillips, and William Lloyd Garrison. When they reached the convention they were told that women were not allowed to participate; even though Lucretia was an official delegate, the women couldn’t speak or vote. In fact, they had to sit in a partitioned off space away from the men. They were outraged. William Lloyd Garrison was so incensed that he refused to participate and sat with the women.  In spite of this, the situation gave Elizabeth the opportunity to get to know Lucretia Mott who would be an important mentor to her in her reform activities.

Stanton with sons Daniel and Henry c. 1848 (source)

Stanton with sons Daniel and Henry c. 1848 (source)

Once Elizabeth and Henry returned from England they moved in with the Cady’s for a time while Henry read law with Judge Cady. They then moved to Boston. In Boston, Elizabeth thrived in the social and intellectual climate, but that changed when they moved to Seneca Falls in 1847. It wasn’t long before she began to feel an intense “mental hunger.” Elizabeth was an excellent mother and housekeeper. In a time when the infant mortality rate was around 50%, she raised seven children to adulthood, having her children with midwives rather than doctors, using homeopathic medicines and sticking to a strict healthy diet. But, this wasn’t enough for her, so when she met with Lucretia Mott and three other women in the summer of 1848, she was ready to campaign for a cause – women’s rights.

In July of 1848, at the Seneca Falls Woman’s Convention, 100 of the 300 attendees signed the Declaration of Sentiments which had been written by Stanton: 68 women and 32 men. Among these were Daniel Anthony, his wife Lucy and his daughter Mary. His daughter Susan B. Anthony was away at college, but would make the acquaintance of Elizabeth soon after the convention, beginning a friendship and partnership that would last for the rest of their lives.

Initially, Susan and Elizabeth worked in the temperance movement together, but soon women’s rights and suffrage in particular took up most of their time. Their skills complemented each other. Elizabeth took speaking engagements, but was more restricted to the homefront, while Susan, who remained single, had the freedom to travel. Elizabeth was the better writer and wrote many of Susan’s speeches, where Susan, as Elizabeth said, “was the better critic. She supplies facts and statistics, I the philosophy and rhetoric.” Together they worked on the expansion of the 1848 Women’s Property Act, giving women more legal rights, and when the Civil War began, as many women did, they set their political concerns aside to found the Loyal League for the purpose of relieving the suffering of families whose men were fighting.

Stanton with Susan B. Anthony c. 1900, Library of Congress digital ID cph.3a02558 (source)

Stanton with Susan B. Anthony c. 1900, Library of Congress digital ID cph.3a02558 (source)

Elizabeth worked hard with all the abolitionists toward passage of the 13th Amendment gathering signatures and campaigning to ensure its passage in 1865, but when discussion of the 14th and 15th Amendments began there were disagreements. The question was whether to fight for suffrage for African-American men first and then for women, or to fight for both at the same time. With Andrew Johnson in the White House, the situation for freed slaves was desperate in many ways. Southern states were passing laws making life very difficult, such as the law that would require the arrest of any black man without a job. In one incident in Memphis TN, in May of 1866, when former black Union soldiers were discharged and ordered to turn in their arms, former confederate soldiers attacked a large community targeting hospitals and schools run by the Freedmen’s Bureau. The riot which lasted for 2 days before federal troops could arrive resulted in the deaths of 46 black men, women, and children, 285 maimed, and over $100,000 worth of damage to property owned by African-Americans. There were no deaths or injuries of white people, and no one was arrested.

Elizabeth and Susan wanted suffrage for black men, but they wanted it for women at the same time. They wanted the removal of the word male in the amendments, making them applicable to all citizens, but many of the prominent men and some women were afraid that the inclusion of women in the right to vote would result in the defeat of the amendments. The 14th Amendment was presented and passed with the word male included. When work began on the 15th Amendment, the disagreement caused a major split among women and their supporters resulting in the formation of two separate organizations: the National Woman Suffrage Association founded by Stanton and Anthony, joined by Sojourner Truth and Matilda Joslyn Gage, and the American Woman Suffrage Association which included Lucy Stone, Elizabeth Blackwell, and Julia Ward Howe, among others.

Over the next 20 years, Elizabeth and Susan would work together publishing a weekly paper, Revolution, with articles covering a wide range of women’s issues. They would tour the country speaking, work toward suffrage in various states, and write. When it was proposed that the two Women’s Suffrage organizations merge in 1890, Stanton was opposed. Many of the more conservative and religious women had distanced themselves from her over the years. In spite of this she was elected the first president of the new National American Woman Suffrage Association.

In many ways Elizabeth became even more radical over the years, supporting divorce rights, birth control, employment rights, and even interracial marriage, issues that more religiously conservative women didn’t want to get involved in. She also created intense controversy when she wrote The Woman’s Bible, a reinterpretation of the Bible from a feminist perspective. This and the fact that Anthony actively mentored younger women in the movement, may have contributed to the fact that Susan B. Anthony came to be seen as the founder of the movement. In recent years though, Elizabeth Cady Stanton has been recognized more and has reemerged in many ways as the Mother of the Suffrage movement.

Stanton, Carrie Chapman Catt and Lucretia Mott on a 1948 stamp commemorating 100 years since the Seneca Falls Convention (source)

Stanton, Carrie Chapman Catt and Lucretia Mott on a 1948 stamp commemorating 100 years since the Seneca Falls Convention (source)

After her death on October 26, 1902, Susan B. Anthony was asked about their relationship and the movement.

“Through the early days, when the world was against us, we stood together. Mrs. Stanton was always a courageous woman, a leader of thought and new movements. I always called her the philosopher and statesman of our movement.”

Some of her writings include
History of Woman Suffrage; Volumes 1–3 (written with Susan B. Anthony and Matilda Joslyn Gage; vol 4–6 completed by other authors, including Anthony, Gage, and Ida Harper) (1881–1922)
The Woman’s Bible (1895, 1898)
Eighty Years & More: Reminiscences 1815–1897 (1898)
Solitude of Self – originally delivered as a speech and considered by some to be the best thing she wrote.

Read Solitude of Self

Along with Stanton’s own works, you might be interested in these.
New York Times Obituary for Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Other Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism, and the Scandalous Victoria Woodhull by Barbara Goldsmith